By Steve Barnes | LITTLE ROCK, Ark.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. Two Arkansas killers were slated on Monday to become the first pair of convicts put to death on the same day in the United States in 17 years, with state and federal courts so far denying their efforts to halt the lethal injections.
Jack Jones, 52, and Marcel Williams, 46, have admitted their guilt in two separate murders. But they were seeking stays of execution on grounds that their physical conditions would expose them to unconstitutional levels of pain and suffering if their death sentences were carried out.
The Arkansas Supreme Court on Monday denied stays for the men. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an appeal from Jones that obesity and related conditions made it more likely that the sedative used as part of the state's three-drug lethal injection process would fail to render him unconscious.
An identical petition for Williams was pending. The 8th Circuit rejected an argument by Williams that his attorney failed to present jurors at the sentencing phase of his trial with evidence of an abused childhood.
The last time a state executed two inmates on the same day was 2000 in Texas.
More last-minute appeals were expected in Arkansas, though the inmates' likelihood of success may have diminished with the recent appointment of conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Last week, the high court cleared the way for Arkansas to hold its first execution in 12 years, and the state carried out its death sentence for convicted murderer Ledell Lee.
Jones, sentenced in 1996 for raping and strangling Mary Phillips and attempting to murder her 11-year-old daughter, was scheduled to be put to death on Monday at 7 p.m. CDT (0000 GMT)at the Cummins Unit prison, about 75 miles (120 km) southeast of the state capital, Little Rock. Jones also was convicted of rape and murder in Florida.
At 8:15 p.m. CDT (0115 GMT on Tuesday), the state was tentatively scheduled to execute Williams, who was sentenced to death in 1997 for kidnapping, raping and murdering Stacy Errickson. He also abducted and raped two other women.
The condemned pair were among eight inmates that Arkansas had initially planned to execute in 11 days this month, a compressed schedule prompted by the impending expiration date of supplies of midazolam, the sedative used by the state for lethal injections.
The drug was used in flawed executions in Oklahoma and Arizona, where witnesses said the inmates writhed in apparent pain on the gurney. No problems were reported in Lee's execution on Thursday.
Four of the planned executions have been put on hold by court order. The state plans a final execution for April on Thursday.
The unprecedented schedule generated a wave of criticism and legal challenges, including a lawsuit from the company that distributes one of the drugs. The company claimed the state obtained its supplies under false pretenses, but the state's Supreme Court threw out that lawsuit last week.
(Writing by Joseph Ax; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis)
Inmate Marcel Williams is shown in this booking photo provided March 21, 2017. Courtesy Arkansas Department of Corrections/Handout via REUTERS